Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Waning Hours of PlayStation Home (3-29-15)

PlayStation Home, circa March 2015

Sony’s virtual world experiment on PS3, called PlayStation Home, hit the gaming scene on December 11, 2008, bringing its own brand of massively multiplayer fun to a community of millions. Sony recently announced that it will be shutting the game down on March 31, 2015, some seven years after its debut.

These are the waning hours of PlayStation Home.

Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World

Saturday, March 28, 2015, 6 p.m. – about 80 hours until the end

Central Plaza has made a bit of a comeback in comparison to the ghost town it had become two weeks ago. I think nostalgia is bringing a few players back for one last hurrah. Also, I noticed at least one individual in the default Home outfit. Imagine starting a new game two days before the server is taken down. You’d be a n00b forever. Bummer.

But the real party is in the Hub, Central Plaza’s smaller spiritual successor. The music – including the unofficial PlayStation Home theme song, “Chain Swing” – is pumpin’ and the giant transparent robots, half naked fairies, and bespectacled hotdog men are dancing the night away. Or lurching for some of them. Ugh.

Some dude runs past asking for help with the “Welcome Home” trophy, which requires one player to invite the other to their apartment. I do it for him, because collecting my trophy was a huge pain. I got mine… differently… then intended.

March 29, 2015, 1 a.m. – about 72 hours to the end

Party’s still hopppin’, and I decide to spread the love with the “Welcome Home” trophy, inviting two strange men to my apartment late at night. In hindsight, I probably could have worded that better.

Nice wiener, dude.

Then I received a message from a player named le619 that read, “hey damn girl very nice ass.”

Sometimes I’m not sad that PS Home is going the way of the dinosaurs.

But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

One of the reasons I’m so interested in the death of Sony’s bizarre virtual world is that despite spending hours roaming its nooks and crannies, but I never really “got it.” Thanks to most players using a stock gamepad, talking to anyone is the equivalent to texting on a track phone. Load times are slow, and even with a direct Ethernet cable connection, you're hanging out with ghosts for your first few minutes in any new location.

This old Penny Arcade cartoon really sums it up:

My latest attempt to make PS Home meaningful (aside from writing this series of articles) was to get all the trophies. I figured it would be cool, years into the PS4 era and beyond, to have a record of my time with this oddity. Seeing that last trophy pop was satisfying enough, but only in the way that completing any game is. It still didn’t justify PlayStation Home’s existence, as least in my mind.

My search for PS Home’s purpose is nothing new. Years ago I’d play it when I was feeling lonely, but the interaction wasn’t exactly human enough to lift my spirits. I’d play when I was board, and wind up just as bored when I was done. One time a player talked to me at length about her feelings. I’m sure she thought I was someone her age, but I didn’t bother to correct her. Instead, I listened and responded as needed, but I don’t think she felt any better about things when we were done.

That’s why I have a soft spot for PlayStation Home, the junk food of the gaming world. As much as I’ve tried to figure it all out over the years, it evades my understanding.

What a waste of time.

I sure will miss it.

I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway

So Home is about two days away from Sony pulling the plug, and I plan to be right there when it happens. Will the screen go black and kick me out of the application? Will I suddenly lose my internet connection as Sony knocks everyone offline for maintenance? Or will it allow players who are still logged in to continue for a while as Sony denies others if they try access the game?

I’ll let you know in my final update April 1.

Green Pedobear knows where you live. Well, at least until Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sega Saturn Chronicles #5: Hail to the Kings, Baby!

Two men. One unappreciated console. These are the Sega Saturn Chronicles.

MATT is 32 years old, and has owned a Saturn since December 1996.  JAMES is 22 years old, and acquired his Saturn in February 2015.

Duke Nukem 3D – Lobotomy Software (developer), Sega (publisher), 1997

MATT: I’m a huge fan of Duke Nukem 3D on the PC. I estimate I spent about 2,000 hours or more playing user levels or building my own back in the day. If Sam’s Club stores offered expansion packs similar to how they sell 35-pound cheese wheels, I’ve have been all over it. What had always been a dark spot on my Nukem notoriety, however, was the fact that I never played the Sega Saturn version… until now. Rebuilt from the ground up using the Powerslave/Exhumed engine, Duke 3D on the Saturn has players feeling sea-sick when turning thanks to a weird, world-tilting effect, and unlike the PC version, you can only save after completing a level. Also, it’s based on the original three episodes of the PC classic, so don’t expect to find levels like Duke Burger or The Birth here. Some levels were cut or shortened, and the exclusive toilet-based Saturn level, Urea 51, is piss poor. Finally, the graphics look like they filtered the original game though YouTube at 144p. Sounds awful, but Duke Nukem 3D is kind of like pizza: even lackluster versions are still pretty tasty, especially with beer and peperoni. The Sega Saturn Duke 3D is the best of the major console ports of the time, in that it is playable. The PS1 version suffered from sky-high difficulty and a crippling seven memory card blocks to save, which took about as long as finishing the damn level did. And the N64 version pointlessly changes weapons, removes anything even remotely risqué, and controls like Duke is less ass-kicking machine and more unoiled machine. The Sega Saturn version is basically fun despite itself, but I’m okay with that. Any excuse to dive back into Duke’s combat boots is just fine with me. These days, you’d be better off grabbing a copy of Duke Nukem 3D from (which does not stand for Gay Old Grannies, that’s another site entirely) or playing the buggy-but-fun PS3 version, released earlier this year. But if all you’ve got is a Saturn, by all means, pick this puppy up and start blasting that alien scum. Note: Though this game used to feature online competitive play, that service has long since been suspended. So if you’ve got the time, you’ll have to play with yourself. 7/10.

JAMES: Always bet on the Duke. Unless you’re playing a console port. Then you should most certainly not bet on the Duke ever. Duke may not look great, sound excellent, or control smoothly on this port, but you know what? It’s still DUKE, damn it. Duke 3D is such a personal fav that I would play a Tiger Electronic version if I was given the choice. This game is not my preferred version by any means, but hell, it’s a good time. You still get to make those alien bastards pay for shooting up your ride, decree that the aliens should blow it out their ass, and you can lay it smackdab on their ass. Pro-tip: Duke says ass a lot. Matt’s review pretty much nailed all the important differences between this and the PC version. If you want to feel what it’s like to play one of the best FPS games of this era, pop this SOB in, crack your knuckles and lock and load.  Come to think of it, if you HAVEN’T played this, stop reading, go get a copy and PLAY! It’s something you have to experience to call yourself a gamer. It’s like Citizen Kane, but Orson Wells rarely, if ever, bellowed “Let God sort ‘em out” while unloading lead into the face of a pig-cop monster. 7/10 for the port 10/10 for the PC version.

Fighters Megamix – Sega, 1997

MATT: Fighters Megamix was the panicle of Sega’s 3D brawlers before Virtua Fighter 3 proved to be a snooze fest and the floor fell out from under the genre as a whole. Mashing up the entire cast of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers would have been enough to make a great game, but Sega also threw in characters from its other popular titles of the time, like Sonic the Fighters, Virtua Cop 2, and even Daytona USA. (Have you ever kicked a car’s tires to make sure they weren’t flat? I’m still petrified of doing that to this day, as Fighter’s Megamix taught me that sometimes, cars hit back.) There’s nods to the pointless and downright freaky Virtua Fighter Kids, a bear statue with zero points of articulation who attacks opponents via creepypasta-style nightmare fuel, and a terrifying Mexican bean person who was surely the inspiration for the majority of the anti-sex crime legislation on the books today. His alternate costume makes him look like a giant, bloodthirsty banana, uncomfortably similar the “Bananas in Pajamas” show, in case you were wondering. You can also play as a massive slab of Castlevania meat with disembodied arms and legs. Oh, and mother f**king plam tree. In the end, Fighter’s Megamix is not only the Saturn’s best 3D fighter, but also Sega’s greatest entry into the survival horror genre. What could have been a lazy cut-and-paste job turns out to be much more than the sum of its freaky, freaky parts. 9/10.

JAMES: This series has taught me a lot, you guys. About one of the first CD based home consoles. About the gaming market in 1995-97. About some progenitors of classic modern series. But mostly, it’s taught me that Sega made terrible 3D fighter after terrible 3D fighter and then wondered why their stupid console failed. So yeah, here’s another one! Ok, ok, let me TRY to be positive. You can fight as a giant bear with no animations. For yuks that’s pretty damn fun. You also can play as a race car which, SHOCKER, sucks at fighting. Again, nice novelty. The thing I like most about this game is that you get to play as Fighting Vipers characters. Since that’s like my third favorite Saturn game so far, that’s awesome. And since this came out in 1997, this has to be one of the first fighting games where they compiled different fighters across several IPs and put them under one roof. I’d say Smash Bros. owes something to this game, but I think in the grand scheme Sega is the one in debt to Nintendo. Literally. I don’t like this formula, but for novelty this game has enough batshit insane stuff to make you laugh. Play it with a friend for maximum hilarity. 5/10

Virtual-On: Cyber Troopers – Sega, 1996

MATT: Virtual-On looked amazing nearly 20 years ago, yet I never got around to playing it during the Saturn’s short-lived heyday. But now I know how James must feel when I show him an old game I loved, and he has trouble understanding why I haven’t adorned it with rocks and sent it to a watery grave in the mighty Hudson River. You’d think Virtual-On was a simple mech combat game. Hell, the controls are even displayed on screen! Right? Not quite: the majority of time, buttons don’t do what the instructions imply, and firing while jumping produces radically different results than what you’d expect. Sometimes, I’ll hit every button on the controller and my bot just sits there, begging to be repurposed into some kind of military grade toaster. And be careful while trying to get your metallic marauder to at least pretend to fight: The perspective change, hidden somewhere on the controller, is neither intuitive nor predictable. It exists merely to punish the poor fools desperately mashing “attack” buttons. You will never, ever return the camera normal, and will remain in the nefarious grasp of the “camera on the moon” viewpoint until your mech is reduced to a smoldering pile of steel and wasted time. I appreciate what they were trying to do with this, I really do, and I bet I’d have figured it all out over a few weeks when I was a kid. But as an adult, I don’t have the time to decode obtuse, underwhelming also-rans from a bygone gaming era. 4/10.

JAMES: Growing up I watched a lot of Gundam Wing. I was and still am a fan of giant robot combat. So I admit, I was a little more interested in this title unlike say, the 20th Sega 3D fighter in a row which feels exactly the same as the last 19. And after getting my robo-ass handed to me in the first couple rounds, I started to get the hang of this insane game. Sure the camera just goes wherever it wants and your opponent seems to always find himself right on the edge of your perspective, but it’s still fun! It’s a flat-out masher, folks. You mash to find the right camera angle, you mash to jump, and you mash to shoot super robo-missiles at your hapless robo-pponent. There are characters who are superfast, some have missiles, some have melee weapons, and there’s a girl one. She’s pink. Honestly, I played as missile-bot because he could spam ranged attacks and they sought out the opponent, which solved the whole “where is this GIANT ROBOT whose shooting me?!” issue the game suffers from.  It’s not a super deep game, and after six or so matches I was pretty done with it. But it’s got pretty sweet level design, it’s satisfyingly insane, and it’s a frenetic mash fest while it lasts. It’s the gaming equivalent of an extramarital affair. Short, sweet, and you try hard to not get an STD. (I don’t think my metaphors have made sense since episode two.) Anyway, 7/10. Check it out and see what madness you can get into! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Wordsmith VG 200: But the Manual Didn't Say Anything About Vodka

To celebrate this, the 200th article here on Wordsmith VG, I figured I would present something I started working on a few years ago but could never find the time to finish. It's nothing life-changing, but it's representative of both the early days of this blog and what it has evolved into over these past five or so years. Hope you enjoy.

In every 8-bit Nintendo (NES) game manual, there's a warning I always found a bit curious: "Do not clean with benzene, paint thinner, alcohol or other such solvents." As someone who had been reading for only a few in months at that point, I didn't even know what half that stuff was.

I wondered if there had been a bunch of drunks sloshing whiskey into their NES games, getting the Gombas and the turtles hammered, and Nintendo had had just about enough. Turns out I wasn't too far off.

About four years ago, I got a text from my friend Jess.

"I'm drunkenly playing Whomp 'em [on NES] with Nick; this game sucks."

Then, a minute or two later: "Will vodka clean an NES cart? This is a serious question. It is 100 proof."

I figured it should work, and indeed, it did. Does that mean those old warnings are poppycock invented by the Big N to get us to buy their cleaning kits?

Q-Tips in hand, I grabbed an armful of NES games decided to test things out for myself.

Don Julio Tequila

Despite an initial failure, on my second attempt, DuckTales booted right up. I think I should have cleaned the console itself before trying this. Oh well, live and learn.

As for the tequila itself, I like it. It's no José Cuervo, but it's good.

Sobieski Vodka

You know what? Eartbhound is awesome. It makes me sad it wasn't released in North America. I makes me feel really happy though wehn I'm playing, so I got this reproducxition cart from some dude in Canada. Yeah, i know a guy.

Anyway, Sobieski wodka reproduced Jess's results, Ony one cleaning, and Earthbound was ready to go! I'm begining to think that Nintendo was full of crap with it's alcohol warning. Yeah, you heard me. yuo're a Damn liar, Mario.

And you know what? Sobieski brand vodka ain't half bad! it's really tastey with coke or diet coke or coke. Or Don Juilo tequila.

Jack Daniel's Whiskey

Good ol' no, 7 tennessie whiskyt. I don't know who Jake Daniells even is but I  god bles s himQ! Damn i'm love Wiskey.


"See you real soon!'


"WHy? Because we llike you!"


Whiskey mouse! (Donald Duck!) Whiskey Mous! Forever let us hold our banner high! High! high! hgih!

Anywhayts, Cheetah Men 2 never really worked that well anway if you catch my drift, byut after cleaning it out with some Kave Daniel's' that sucker worked just as well as something made in someone's basement on their lunch break ever cuold.

Also i love jcak danliels.

Woo! Jack daniels, bottled at the distillery it says./ Really? I tought it was bottled at the nursing home! Ha! I am a comedic genius and noeone appreciates it.

Bath tubw gin


Shaq-fu ssuks

goood night

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Final Days of PlayStation Home

PlayStation Home, circa late 2014

Sony’s virtual world experiment on PS3, called PlayStation Home, hit the gaming scene on December 11, 2008, bringing its own brand of massively multiplayer fun to a community of millions. Sony recently announced that it will be shutting the game down on March 31, 2015, some seven years after its debut.

These are the final days of PlayStation Home.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It
Saturday, March 14, 2015, 7 p.m. – two weeks until the end.

Central Plaza, which had been bustling with the majority of the PS Home hold-outs only three weeks ago, is a ghost town. There’s a few scattered players shuffling around, but not a single one is speaking. Maybe I picked an off time, but on Saturday night, you’d expect someone to have congregated in the game’s most popular hub.

I duck into the bowling alley, wondering if players are congregating there instead.

Usually you’re lucky if you can find a free spot in a blowing game, let alone and entire free lane. But all four? I pick up the ball and start trying for a strike, but my heart isn’t in it. I exit the game and spin my avatar around, towards the door.

In the back, a single player sits on a bench. Maybe he was there the whole time, or maybe he just walked in. It’s kind of creepy and a little depressing.

I didn't get the guy in the shot, but it's still creepy empty.

Things pick up a little around midnight, but what a far cry from PlayStation Home’s heyday.

Gotta Get Back in Time
I discovered PlayStation Home at a weird time in my life. I had just quit my job of many years to complete the master’s degree I had been working on for quite a while. I was living with my parents and had built up a pretty nice savings account, so money wasn’t a concern. Technically I was supposed to be preparing for next semester and the hell that is student teaching, but most of the time, I found myself with a controller in my hands and, sometimes after dark, a bottle of whiskey to keep me warm. Also drunk.

I’m not exactly the most social individual, but quitting a job that had me interviewing new, interesting people nearly every day left me feeling a bit – I don’t know. Lonely isn’t quite right, and neither is bored. I was feeling… bonely. No, wait – lored.

Cut to a few nights later. After fooling around with that old simulator, Life with PlayStation, Jack Daniels and I noticed the Home icon hanging out in the PS3’s user interface. I remember having messed around with Home briefly a few months before and thinking it was dumb, but I booted it up anyway because I was feeling awfully lored and slightly bonely.

I found myself dumped into Central Plaza, surrounded by freaks of all shapes and sizes. Within seconds of my arrival, some kind of robot-man in a diving suit (think Bioshock) strutted up to me and requested that I show him my “pepperoni nipples.” When I walked away, he chased me around, repeating his bizarre request in all caps.

I was immediately in love this weird, wonderful game.

At least, I think that’s how it happened. I might be blending several memories into a romanticized swirl. In fact, I’m pretty sure my pepperoni experience happened at a then-girlfriend’s house. But the thing you just read is also pretty accurate, so let’s go with that.

One of the great things about PS Home is that you can be anyone or even anything you want. A 14-year-old girl named Princess Sally? Sure! An old man named Brett? Go for it! A terrifying yeti woman with green skin and purple hair? I’ve never seen that, but why not?

I was none of those things.

At first I tried to make my avatar resemble my real self, but the hair options ranged from awful to criminal. I opted for a sex change, traded my curly brown hair for long, red locks, and never looked back.

Well, except for when I was a short, fat black guy with a sweet blue afro. I enjoyed switching between the two, but somewhere along the line, a Home update deleted him. So nowadays, I stick with Red.

I even wrote one of my first blog posts about those wacky, buggy days of PS Home, which can be seen here.

It’s much less buggy in its final incarnation, but in seven years, the damn game never left beta.

The Final Countdown
Back in the present, PlayStation Home has been showing signs of the impending apocalypse for the last few months. Players could no longer purchase content like outfits and apartment furnishings by the end of 2014, and even now, three months after the fat man in red squeezed his fat hiney down every chimney in from Alaska to Zimbabwe, a massive Christmas tree stands unchallenged and unchanged in Home Square.

That's me, and I love Tekken. Merry Christmas!

Once premium content is now being doled out for free, and the remaining “Homesters,” as the game calls them, seem to be dressing in their most outlandish threads for one last hurrah.

I used to spend my Home time gently trolling people and being a lovable ass, but lately, things have changed. I’ve had actual conversations with actual people about important topics. Maybe this is what Sony had intended all along.

Nah, screw it, it’s still more fun to run up to people and say “I was molested by Spider-man!” then run off before they can type out a decent reply.

I’ll be chronicling the fall of the PS Home society for the rest of this month, so check back for an update or two before PlayStation Home, as its final update proclaims, “rides off into the sunset.”

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sega Saturn Chronicles #4: Fighter Frenzy

Two men. One unappreciated console. These are the Sega Saturn Chronicles.

MATT is 32 years old, and has owned a Saturn since December 1996.  JAMES is 22 years old, and acquired his Saturn in February 2015.

Battle Monsters – Scarab (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1995

MATT: What can be said of a high profile, triple-A title like Battle Monsters that hasn’t been already? A clear masterpiece of the live action shortbus tournament fighter genre, Battle Monsters delivers the very best in dual clown technology via hive-minded ex-cons/John Wayne Gacy enthusiasts Chili and Pepper. The game is also known for making great strides in bridging the decapitated pharaoh and emo Frankenstein communities through the endearing friendship of Headless Harn and everybody’s favorite golem, Deathmask. Gameplay is simple, with a scant four jump buttons, a button that occasionally does punches, a kick, and another button that is only used in some special move notations. Multitiered arenas fuel Battle Monsters’ unique, refreshing gameplay. As a result, never does the player lose sight of opponents as the camera shoots into the stratosphere to accommodate the restraining order-style distances fighters get from each other. Intuitive controls, enduring characters, and a totally reasonable difficulty curve make Battle Monsters one for the ages. A true classic. 22.95/10.

JAMES: This game…wow. We’ve played some bad fighters – if you’ve read the previous instalments, you know what I’m talking about – but this game is devastating. The characters are all digitized a la Mortal Kombat, but despite this coming out years later and on CD, these characters look like their sprites were rendered in MS Paint. But the low-res is actually a blessing when you consider what these characters actually look like. The best description I could come up with is that they were assembled from the discarded items from a high school prop closet mixed with whatever clearance Halloween costumes the team could get for $8 from the Five and Dime. It’s like some sort of Frankenstein of bad character design. NOTE: There is a Frankenstein’s Monster in the game. There’s also Shao Khan’s non-union equivalent. It seriously looks just like him, except instead of telling me “You will die!” his battle cry sounds like he’s shredding on an electric guitar. I’m not kidding. He throws his head back and lets loose a tasty guitar riff that sends his opponents reeling with the power of ROCK. Also, I beat the game as identical twin clown creatures who threw one another as projectiles. The game did have one interesting feature: Instead of a life bar, you have candles, and each time you get hit, the candle shrinks and eventually is extinguished, which lead to instances of grown men screaming “God damn it, I threw my clown at him five times and he had a half candle but he still won!” And neither of us are schizophrenic. The final boss assumed many forms, each one cheaper than the last, but at least you get to start from wherever you he defeats you instead of beating all four forms in one go. Small comfort. I’m not going to mention the sloppy controls or really nondescript level design (oops, I just did), but I will say is this: I beat that game. In 2015. I have a legitimate claim to best Battle Monsters player IN THE WORLD. So come at me! 4/10 for actual quality, 10/10 for riffing purposes.

Battle Arena Toshinden Remix – Takara (developer), Sega (publisher), 1996

MATT: Battle Arena Toshinden was one of the first PlayStation games available upon the console’s release in 1995, and at the time, it wowed players with its 3D graphics and rockin’ soundtrack. Many first generation PlayStations came with a demo disc that prominently featured BAT, further catapulting it into the public eye. However, better 3D fighters like Tekken almost instantly dethroned Toshinden and the series spiraled into obscurity. So obviously, the best course of action for Sega was to release a second-rate port for the Saturn months after Toshinden ceased being relevant, almost as if to prove that the console could handle it. The Saturn’s infamous inability to handle transparencies is in full force here, and through the polygons look a little less jagged than in the PS1 version, the textures leave something to be desired. The added story sequences with anime style character portraits and voiceovers are nice for the both of you who care about Toshinden’s storyline, but overall it adds little to the experience. The big draw was supposed to be the Saturn-exclusive character Cupido. She’s cool and all, but really not all that different from Eiji, Kayin, and Sho. It’s worth noting that despite Cupido’s important place in the Toshinden’s overarching plot, this is her only playable appearance in the series. Now a novelty at best even on its native console, the inferior BAT Remix on Saturn is little more than a slow, tedious waste of time. This might have been the worst aged game ever before Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City/San Andres took that crown, but I’ve got to admit, I still have a soft spot for Eiji and his pals – but mostly thanks to Sega’s biggest competitor. 5/10.

JAMES: Playing this one kinda felt like playing with the grandpa of the Tekken or Soul Calibur franchises, and boy do I love playing with grandpa! (Wait, no, that doesn’t seem right…) Anyway, I would copy and paste my review from the numerous other 3D fighters, but this one actually did have some features that border on, dare I say, unique? For starters it had pretty neat cut scenes. They were really more like animated comics with still images and voice acting but still, for the time I thought that was pretty dope. The art style of the cut scenes were eye pleasing, and for 1996, the voices were quite good when you consider Resident Evil’s voice acting was considered acceptable. Aside from that though, the game does feel a bit standard. Characters really don’t behave or look that different from one another, the same strategies work on every opponent, and the level design is pretty uninspired. I prefer it to the Virtua Fighter games only because the cut scenes and voices give it some heart and atmosphere whereas most of the Saturn’s 3D fighters tend to run together. It’s probably worth a looksee if you have the time, but unless you are a mega huge fighting game fan, you won’t lose sleep if you skip this one. 6/10.

Mortal Kombat II – Probe (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1996

MATT: This title was released terribly late from a marketing standpoint, roughly around the same time as MK3 was making its way to home systems. It looks great, especially in comparison to the Genesis cart, but arcade fanatics will immediately notice missing frames of animation and absent voice clips. On a 32-bit system like the Saturn, that’s just inexcusable, especially considering that the game takes up so little space on the disc. As always on CD-based consoles of the time, Shang Tsung’s morphs grind the game to a halt, and fatalities freeze to load death graphics from presumably the most hazardous databanks on the disc. You can turn off Shang’s morphing ability to preserve the fast-and-furious nature of Kombat’s combat, but what’s the point of playing as everyone’s most tolerated shape-shifter if he can’t do his only cool trick? Perhaps the easiest version of MK II, computer opponents routinely allow the player to assault them with the same special moves over and over again. But don’t worry, Kintaro will inevitably separate you from your precious few continues – and your character from his or her limbs – faster than that hack Goro ever could. Seriously, why did early Mortal Kombat games insist on having limited continues? It goes against the very nature of both arcade AND fighting games. Anyway, not a bad game and definitely not the worst port of MKII (that dubious distinction goes to the GameBoy cart), but I still find myself itching for the 32X version instead. Or better still, Midway Arcade Treasures 2 on PS2, Xbox, or GameCube. 6/10.

JAMES: Once upon a time I hated MKII. As a child I played UMK3 and MK1 exclusively and really never paid much attention to the meat in that Mortal Sandwich. I think it boiled down to two things: The place where I lived had a fully stocked arcade (a story for another blog) and among other things it had arcade cabinets of MK1 and 3, but no 2, so I didn’t get well acquainted with it. Also the game always scared me a little. The other MKs had blood and guts, but the tone of MK2 was always darker and more serious, the tongue in cheek nature was toned down, the setting felt more badass, and in general the game didn’t f**k around. Also I had the genesis version at home so playing it as a child with its diabolical difficulty was a non-option. But in recent years I’ve revisited my stance on this game – after all, it’s considered by most fans of the series to be the best one! And upon reflection, I really do like it. Specifically this port. For all the ports of the time before the re-releases on modern systems, I find this to be the most complete. Sure it’s missing some sounds or frames, but only people like Matt realize that, and I’m pretty sure he only learned to read so he could find out what the manuals to his video games say. The difficulty is dumbed down but you could always raise it for a challenge, unlike the Genesis port which on the lowest setting is still a walk through a park that’s on fire and you’re naked and it’s raining broken glass. Fairness ends when you get to Kintaro, whose difficulty setting clearly was directly imported from the Genesis version. We couldn’t beat him. Still, this is a slick port and if you want to own a version of the game that’s from the era in which it was released, this is your guy. Side note, we did beat MK2 for Genesis recently, however I beat Kintaro and Shao Khan while Matthew cried and sucked his thumb in the corner. 8/10.

MATT: Note: James is a penis. That is all. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Aabs Animals on PS3 makes man doubt existence of benevolent god, quality control

I’ve always had a soft spot for oddball software on the PS3, like Flower, Super Rub-a-Dub, Proteus, and PAIN. Sometimes I really enjoy a simple idea turned into an elegant experience that transcends normal gaming, or in the case of PAIN, an experience with a lot of wiener and fart jokes.

After watching the first few chapters of that Yakuza 4 movie that was free for PlayStation Plus users last month (someone said there’s a game in there, but I have yet to find it), I fired up Linger in Shadows for the first time since May of 2009. Linger is essentially a glorified demo, but a good waste of an hour. It made me nostalgic for that special time in my life when PS3 was the new hotness, I still lived at home with my parents, I had a job that would make even a clown sob, and all the whiskey in the world couldn’t dull the ever-present darkness spilling from my soul.

Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” was number one on the Billboard charts for 40 weeks that year.

So I took a virtual trip to the virtual PSN Store on my actual couch, and discovered a curiosity called “Aabs Animals.” It looked fresh and unique, sort of like an anti-video game. It was only $4.99, so I took the plunge.

Boot it up and you’re greeted with a kitten. Only the kitten doesn’t do anything. Oh, it walks a bit, but it doesn’t actually move from the center of the screen. And when it falls asleep on its back, it looks less like a kitten and more like a corpse. Occasionally it meows. That’s it.

It’s the animal version of Desert Bus.

Fooling about with the analogue sticks moves the camera around a bit, and you realize your cat is blessed with the awesome power of levitation, ‘cause it never actually touches the ground. Also, it’s really, really easy to lose sight of your kitten entirely, instead staring into the vast, unreachable vegetation in the distance, where you swear you’ll see your wasted five bucks gently riding the wind towards the Abbs company’s insidious banker.

Furiously ramming all the other buttons on the controller does nothing. And the cat just stares you down, making you feel like you’ve made the worst financial move of your life, like Aabs Animals comes with a 997.8 percent APR or something.

In the first 15 seconds, a trophy popped up. Then another. And another.

“Oh, it’s a not a virtual pet,” I realized. “It’s trophy simulator.”

And with five trophies – three gold – earned over a mere five minutes, it’s a generous one. I “completed” the entire game in 5 minutes.

If I learned something from this experience, I’m not sure what it was. What I do know is that it would have been simpler for me just to pay for the trophies outright and get rid of the freaky feline middleman.

As Lady Gaga might say, “Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun.” Also, “Mum mum mum mah, Mum mum mum mah, Mum mum mum mah, Mum mum mum mah, Mum mum mum mah.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sega Saturn Chronicles #3: From Daytona to the Bronx

Two men. One unappreciated console. These are the Sega Saturn Chronicles.

MATT is 32 years old, and has owned a Saturn since December 1996.  JAMES is 22 years old, and acquired his Saturn in February 2015.

Daytona USA and Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition – Sega, 1995 and 1996

MATT: Drunken Japanese men doing karaoke is sort of like scratching off an expensive lottery ticket: You know you’re going to be disappointed, but some part of you keeps hoping you’ll strike it rich, either with cash or, in the case karaoke, hilarity. Daytona USA inexplicably opts for a soundtrack chock-full of intoxicated Asians stumbling their way through peculiar, racing-themed tunes in the English language. Even though this was the poorest offering in Sega’s “3 Free Games” promotion – which also came with Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop – Daytona USA kinda, sorta makes up for it with heart. As the player speeds along the first course, a voice booms over the droning of the engine: “Rolling staaaat! ROLLING STAAAAT!” And that’s when you know Daytona USA isn’t your average draw-in laden, pop-up heavy generic racer running at seven frames per second. It’s a draw-in laden, pop-up heavy generic racer with a karaoke mode! Once I asked my brother to race while I sang along with the help of karaoke mode’s subtitles. It was sort of a bonding experience for Ian and I, like when two people are abused by the same uncle, or when they witness the same murder. The Championship Circuit Edition cleans up the graphics a bit and offers new tracks and cars, and I think the control is better too. It’s categorically superior, except in one way: Sega ditched the karaoke songs, striping CCE of any sense of series identity in the process. 5/10.

JAMES: Playing an old sports game can sometimes be a lot of nostalgic fun. For me, popping in an old baseball game is a blast. Seeing all the old players, the stats, uniforms, ballparks, etc. more than makes up for the fact that the game is utterly inferior to modern sports titles. Playing an old racing game has none of that charm. I don’t play racers and the only one I ever really enjoyed was Burnout 2 – I liked crashing cars in slo-mo basically. This game has crashing cars, but no slo-mo. It’s a basic racer but a few major flaws spell its doom. Obstacles are constantly rendering a car’s length in front of your face, the handling is like you’re on ice, and you crash literally every time you attempt sharp turns. The music is catchy but ANY TIME you collide with a wall, a voiceover will say “Go easy on the car!” For those familiar with the Angry Video Game Nerd, this will no doubt spark the same thought in your head as it did in mine: “Where did you learn to fly?” Ugh. The best part of the game was finishing in 29th place out of 30 and hearing the announcer say “You Finished…29th…” His sentence started with enthusiasm and joy only to end with sorrow and pity. Doing that poorly in a video game is a lot like erectile dysfunction. You swear it never happened to you before, or sometimes you had a hard day at work, sometimes you had too much to drink. It can happen to anybody really. And that is pretty much how I feel about this offering: it’s a limp noodle. 4/10.

Robotica – Micronet (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1995

MATT: The mid ‘90s. Deep in the bowels of Micronet, a meeting takes place.

DEV1: We need to make some kinda vidya game soon as we can. Acclaim is running out of NBA Jam sequels to terrorize the market with, and they’re threatenin’ to take away our wireless NES controllers if we don’t churn somethin’ out right quick.

DEV 2: Oh dear Lord, those work from up to 30 feet away! …wait, I’ve got it! You know what was great? DooM! Let’s make DooM. But for the Saturn this time.

DEV 1: Yeah, and let’s add some dang robots! And make it look bland as a cat’s rear!

DEV 2: Great idea! Every room will be indistinguishable from the last, and we can force the player to backtrack for hours to find the fiendishly concealed exit. Only by the sweet graces of Jesus Christ and the Steve Miller Band will they find their way to the next stage.

DEV3: Also boobs.

DEV1 and 2: Wait, what?

DEV3: Add electro-boobs and call it “Robotica.”

And so it came to pass that Robotica was born, albeit without breasts of any kind. Also it came to pass that the world forgot about Robotica’s poor controls, bargain bin plot, and torturous, maze-like levels almost as soon as the game hit retail shelves. 3/10.

*Note: Robotica is also the name of the current day academic journal of the International Federation of Robotics. It’s published by Cambridge University Press and, like the Saturn game, it does not contain metallic nudity of any kind.

JAMES: I’m sorry Matt, you said plot? You know damn well no such thing existed in that game. Look, there really isn’t a freakin’ thing to say about this game. It left no impression on me whatsoever. I feel about it much the same way I feel about The Trials at Nuremberg. It happened, but the effect on me was negligible. The enemies were nondescript, it was hard to contro,l and I never had a clue where I was or what I was doing. I didn’t hate it because I’m so accustomed to the trappings of FPS. Much like a beating from a parent, the pain was familiar and not wholly unexpected. It’s a 4/10, but only because I can play any FPS and be mildly entertained.

Last Bronx – Sega, 1997

MATT: Something can be said for simplicity. Last Bronx lived and died by that principle, delivering a fresh take on the “punch, kick, guard” control scheme first-party Saturn fighting titles were legally obligated to utilize. A 2D game in a 3D body, Last Bronx scores a knock-out hammer blow to the head with its pick-up-and-play style, jazzy tunes, and funky character designs. For example: Nagi, boss of the Dogma Gang and Android 18 cosplayer, is also known as The Raving Lesbian. Ha! How utterly not homophobic and endearing of you, Sega. Nagi’s the perfect complement to Harry the Homosexual Hunter from Fighting Vipers 3: The Prisoner of Ura Bahn*, but alas, they would never meet. Also, Last Bronx is set in Tokyo. There must be a Little Bronx there, kinda like how Manhattan has Chinatown. Anyway, seasoned fighting gamers (read: snobs) might see this as a poor man’s Virtua Fighter 2/Fighting Vipers, but sometimes minimalism wins out over, uh, Virtua Fighter. Don’t think too hard and you’ll have a blast with this game, alone or with a friend. In the end the naysayers are proven right: This particular well ain’t the deepest, so Last Bronx will likely run dry of fun in about a week. But what a week it’ll be. 8/10.

*Denis Miller called. He wants his esotericism back.

JAMES: I played this. I beat the arcade ladder. So why can’t I remember a damn thing about it? Oh I remember now, because it’s the fifth time I’ve played this exact same game! Maybe it’s my modern sensibilities, but this felt nearly indistinguishable from Fighting Vipers, Virtua Fighter, or any of the other Sega 3D fighters covered previously. Matt loves fighting games the way other people love their children, so I appreciate that HE gets the nuances. But I just find these really interchangeable. To be fair, the control was smoother and the hit detection was a lot better. I played as a man with a giant mallet which is pretty badass, and fought people – not a single one of which can I recall. Playing against Matt was a lot of fun but playing Matt in any fighter is fun, so take that with a grain of salt I suppose. If you like the formula you’ll like this, but to me it doesn’t feel special. The only game of this family that sticks out even a tad is Fighting Vipers. There’s nothing wrong with this game per se, but unless you’re a fighting game aficionado, I would just play Street Fighter III or something. If you can get it super cheap and you love fighters, might be worth your time. 6/10.